Is the governor’s threat much ado about nothing?
So, what’s the beef? (Photo: Richard Bednarski)
This past Friday, just as Clark County lawmakers were boarding planes heading back to see their families for the weekend, Gov. Joe Lombardo laid down a gauntlet.
He threatened to veto a school safety bill that was heard the day before in the Senate Committee on Education unless HIS school safety bill was also heard.
It sounds petulant, but I dug a bit deeper and I’m not certain that it is.
Actually, I think this might just be a communication issue.
When the bills were proposed within a week of each other in mid-March, both of them – Assemblywoman Angie Taylor’s CCEA-backed AB285, and Lombardo’s AB330 – seemed to kill, or at least deeply wound, the practice of restorative justice for schools in the state. Both repealed key restorative justice tenets from the 2019 bill that was proposed by the late Tyrone Thompson, and shepherded through to passage by Assemblywoman Selena Torres after his death during the 2019 legislative session.
Then, both AB285 and AB330 went through a metamorphosis in the Assembly Committee on Education and came out as completely different, but highly similar, bills. Bills that did keep restorative justice practices, but also allow schools to expel violent students as young as age 6.
So, what’s the beef?
Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, who is the chair of Assembly Education, told me she worked closely with former senator Ben Kieckhefer – who is currently Lombardo’s chief of staff – to come up with compromise language that was acceptable to all.
Here’s a list of the important changes they made from the original AB330:
It also takes into consideration that students who have behavioral problems still need to be educated – because, as Bilbray-Axelrod told me, “We don’t want to lose them.”
This is backed by years of research on the prison pipeline and community safety. Brigid Duffy, the director for the Juvenile Division for the Clark County District Attorney, has told me that when kids are expelled from school, they end up on the streets making the rest of the community unsafe.
She agrees that “we need safe environments in schools,” but, she asks, “Where are these kids going to go when they are expelled from schools?”
Duffy also noted that there are few programs in place to send a child with behavioral issues. The few that exist are even more understaffed than academic schools.
“When a kid goes on probation,” Duffy said, “we write ‘mentoring… if available. Counseling… if available’.”
Often it is not available. The changes to AB330 don’t build more mentoring and counseling options, but they enshrine into law that they have to be available to students, which should hopefully point toward future changes in social worker and psychologist training and recruitment.
The new version of AB330 also takes into account the role that implicit racism plays in punishment. The bill refers to it as “disproportionality,” and mandates that statistics be kept and examined each year on the underlying reasons for the disproportionality. It also mandates that districts and schools have publicly available discipline plans, must get parents involved – though not necessarily before a child is expelled – and have to revisit the data and the plan every year.
Now let’s look at the differences between Lombardo’s amended AB330 and Assemblywoman Taylor’s revised AB285. I’m listing the parts of the bills that are different than the original restorative justice law.
AB285 also requires training that includes “focusing on schools with the highest need to allow adequate time for implementation of restorative discipline based on multi-tier systems of support.” This is one of the few requirements kept from Thompson’s 2019 bill.
And AB330 adds this requirement: “A pupil in kindergarten or grades 1 to 8, may not be disciplined for: simulating a firearm or dangerous weapon while playing; or wearing clothing or accessories that depict a firearm or dangerous weapon, or express an opinion regarding a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, unless it substantially disrupts the educational environment.”
I call this provision “back to the ‘70s.” Before mass shootings were a thing, and playing make believe shoot-em-outs was safe, because none of us had any inkling it could happen to us in real life.
Looked at from this side by side view, AB330 and AB285 are not that much different. But AB330 did not receive a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, which prompted Lombardo’s threat.
Senate Education Chair Roberta Lange told me that she did not bring AB330 because it was so similar to AB285. I got no more details, as Lange has been called into extra duty this week with the birth of Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s second child (congrats!).
I did not hear back from the governor’s office, but I am mystified by the quote from Kieckhefer in the press release, which states: “Governor Lombardo will not sign legislation that allows a student to commit battery against a teacher and have the only mandatory punishment be a meeting with their parents.”
I honestly don’t know where he gets that from. It is not in AB285, which is the only bill the Senate passed out of committee on this issue as of the writing of that letter. Since then, the legislature has brought back AB330.
Maybe the governor’s office didn’t read the amended AB285? Maybe Lombardo and Kieckhefer were just angry that the bill they had worked on so closely with Bilbray-Axelrod was tossed without explanation? I’m not certain.
What I know is that we started off with two bills that focused on “student safety” with no plan for what causes students to be violent or how to help them to not be violent, to two bills that take into account the causes and cures for the students who harm teachers and other students. I would be happy with either of these bills. But I’m dismayed at the seeming crossed signals between lawmakers and the governor’s office.
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